Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Making our first Soap

Soap Making

Jim joined us today from The Caurnie Soaperie, to take us through the process of making soap.

Vegetable Oil + Sodium Hydroxide (NaOH) = Releases Glycerine Soap

There are two processes used to make soap:

Cold Process: Keeps all the essential fatty parts of the soap - it makes the final soap more moisturising, and leads to no waste.

Boiling Process: This removes the glycerine water - called the Sweet Waters. These are then used in the arms/explosive industry to make nitro-glycerin.

The basic process is, the fatty acid chains must be neutralised, which seperates them from the glycerine backbone - this is an exothermic reaction (meaning it gives off heat), this, essentially, creates the soap.

The Process of Making Soap

The first step of the process is to melt 200g of Coconut Oil. This can be done by emptying the Coconut Oil into a beaker and applying direct heat (it is best if the beaker is pyrex).

While the Coconut Oil is melting, measure out 800g of Olive Oil.

The next stage is to make your Lye Solution - which is basically NaOH (Sodium hydroxide) dissolved in water. There is a slight hazard when dealing with this alkali and so safety precautions (such as wearing gloves, goggles and protecting your skin is advised). Pour the alkali into water - do not add the water to the alkali as this could lead a "volcano" effect, as the alkali heats the water exceptionally fast, whereas if the alkali is added to the water, the volume of cold water will keep the alkali more stable. Mix until dissolved - you will notice the exothermic reaction.

Collect together your three base ingredients, and find a large bucket or container to mix them in.

Add the Olive Oil first.

Follow this by adding the, now liquid, Coconut Oil.

While stirring continuously, slowly dribble in the Lye Solution - this is called Saponification.

Keep hand-stirring the mixture.

After the initial stirring you can bring in some speed, using a hand-held blender. You will notice the colour and viscosity change in the liquid. We are now looking for the moment when the mixture reaches trace.

"Trace" is the moment when the mixture is viscous enough that when the blender is removed from the mixture it leaves a mark i.e. it leaves almost an "imprint" of where it was removed from the mixture.

Once the mixture has reached trace, 30g of essential oil (in this case Lavender) is added to the mixture and blended thoroughly, before it is poured into a mould.
On the left you see a soap that has been poured into the mould and been decorated with dried heather and lavender buds. 

Once the soap has been poured into the mould, for aesthetics you can decorate the soap as you wish.

Our two soaps.
Left: Lavender scented soap, decorated with dried Heather and Lavender Buds.
Right: "Ode to Spring" - a Lavender scented soap, containing a Chickweed tincture and dried Oats, decorated with Daphne, Viburnum and Witchhazel blossoms as an Ode to the Spring.

The Lavender and Heather soap, due to the botanicals it contains, will had a sedative-like effect, which in turn is calming to the mind. The Lavender also treats insect bites and burns nicely, soothing them. Whilst the Heather, is antiseptic, gently astringent and helps treat rheumatism and eczema.

"Ode to Spring" contains the Lavender essential oil also, which is calming, as mentioned above. It also contains a Chickweed tincture, which is mildly astringent, carminative, vulnerary and a skin soother, whilst also helping to treat rheumatism and arthritis. We mixed dried Oats through the soap to give it an exfoliant effect which will help soften and smooth skin. The soap was then decorated with Daphne, Viburnum and Witchhazel blossoms, all which lend a sweet Spring fragrance and look to the soap.

"Ode to Spring"

Our soaps - to now be left for a week to set, then removed from their moulds and sliced with a straight-blade knife.

The process it seems is quite simple. It will become more complex when you want to start adding different elements, also changing the base oil being used, i.e. instead of Olive Oil using Seabuckthorn Oil, will alter the volume of alkali solution that is required - there are online calculators that can work this out for you.

The last thing to add is, "Ode to Spring" won the prize for the "best" soap of the day. However all the soaps were excellent, good thing as will be taking a lot of soap home next week!

If you want to look up The Caurnie Soaperie their details are below:

Tel: 0141 776 1218

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Self-Study - Resurrection Plant

A phenomenon! For my birthday in November, my flatmate bought me a Resurrection Plant - what is this plant I hear you ask? Well... it is the green desert fern Selaginella lepidophylla.

The idea behind this retailing masterpiece is that it is "The Plant You Cannot Kill!"

"This Resurrection Plant is a desert variety belonging to the moss family. It has learnt to survive in very dry regions by contracting into a dry ball to be carried along by the wind until it settles in water. It will then unfold its fern-like fronds and renew itself as if 'resurrected' from the dead."

"This unusual behaviour can be repeated many times or until the plant finds a permanent damp place to set down its roots, when it will make an easy to care for and attractive houseplant."

"Growing Instructions: Place the dry plant into a container of water and within a few hours the plant will begin to 'come back to life'. It will remain green until deprived of water - when it will again curl up as if dead. To grow the plant in potting compost - simply push the root ball into damp soil and keep the roots moist. If the plant begins to curl up, add water to revive. Keep above 10 degrees C, away from direct sunlight."

It takes around 3 hours after the roots have been wetted for the fern to "unfurl".

Selaginella lepidophylla is a species of desert plant in the spikemoss family, Selaginellaceae. It is noted for its ability to survive almost complete desiccation; during dry weather in its native habitat, its stems curl into a tight ball and uncurl when exposed to moisture - it is native to the Chihuanhuan Desert.

Common names for this plant include: False Rose of Jericho, Rose of Jericho, Resurrection Plant, Dinosaur Plant, Siempre viva, Stone flower, and Doradilla.

S. lepidophylla is easily confused with Anastatica, both species are resurrection plants and form tumbleweeds, they also share the common name "Rose of Jericho".

The plant is now sold as a novelty item, as a bare root in its dry state which can be revived with only a little water. Historically however, when the Spanish Friars entered the New World, including the area that was to become the United States, they used the plant to demonstrate to the Natives the concept of being "reborn".

Botanical Details

Selaginella: from the Latin "selago" (A type of juniper we now call savin juniper. Selaginella's have juniper-like foliage), and the Latin "ella" meaning small.

lepidophylla: from the Latin meaning scaly-leaved.

It is one of 700 species. All of them are primitive plants, fitting somewhere between mosses and ferns in the hierarchy of plant evolution. They belong to a group of plants known as the lycopods, whose members go by the common names of ground pines and club mosses. All are relatively small (up to about one foot tall) and are found around the world, usually in moist locations with mosses and ferns. They reproduce by single-celled spores, and lack flowers, fruits and seeds. Even their "leaves" are not really leaves, but instead leaf-like extensions of the stem. What lycopods consist of then, are roots, stems with scales, and club-like strobili that produce spores.

A desert inhabitant, it can be found growing from rock outcroppings or in dry soil, its close neighbours would be mostly cacti and other arid-loving species. Under these conditions, most other lycopods would perish.
When the soil is moist after infrequent rains, the plant absorbs water and grows rapidly, producing a flat rosette of scaly stems up to one foot across. As the soil dries, it cannot store water like its succulent neighbours, so it folds up its stem into a tight ball as it desiccates and goes into a state of dormany. The folded plant has a limited surface area, and what little internal moisture is present is conserved. All metabolic functions are reduced to a bare minimum and it appears to be dead. The plant can remain in this dormant condition for years, then when the rain returns, the plant's cell rehydrates. The stems unfold, metabolism increases, and growth resumes. Even dead Resurrection plants will unfold if given water, since rehydrated cells expand even if there is no living protoplasm in them.

As a lycopod, the Resurrection Plant can trace its ancestors far back into history. They appeared at least 400 million years ago as small plants similar in appearance to those that are alive today. Their period of prominence however, came later. Between 345 and 280 million years ago they dominated the plant world as giant trees over 100 feet tall with trunks 6 feet in diameter at the base. These swamp inhabiting trees became important contributors to the coal deposits we exploit today. Cooler climates and other, as yet unidentified factors, caused these giant lycopods to become extinct. But their smaller relatives, like the Resurrection Plant, persisted in a changing world.
Today the lycopods make up an inconspicuous remnant of what were once the largest plants on earth. The ability to adapt to one's surroundings has always been the key to survival. In that respect the seemingly insignificant Resurrection Plant is an eminent example of perseverance.


Despite being a decorative plant, S. lepidophylla has also been used as a herbal medicine. An infusion is made by steeping a tablespoon of dried material in hot water, the tea is used as an antimicrobial in cases of colds and sore throats.
An infusion also has salutary effects on the kidney and liver, and breaks up gallstones.

  1. Hawkins Bazaar - product purchase: Resurrection Plant

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Self-Study - Dragon's Blood Resin

During our last class, an intruigingly named resin was mentioned, and purely, due to its name, I wanted to do a profile for it.

Dragon's Blood Resin

Dragon's blood is a bright red resin that is obtained from different species of a number of distinct plant genera: Croton, Dracaena, Daemonorops, Calamus rotang and Pterocarpus.

However, the most common species to obtain the resin from is Dracaena cinnabari, otherwise known as the Dragon's Blood Tree.

The Dracaena cinnabari grows in the mountaintops of the Socotra Archipelago, which is a group of four remote islands located in the Indian Ocean south of the Arabian Peninsula. The distinctive shape the botanical has evolved is crucial to its survival, the Socotra is a hot, desert island with an especially tough dry season and very little rainfall. The water droplets carried along on the occasional "morning mist" accumulate readily on the tree's long waxy leaves, and due to the tree's ingenuious shape, it is efficient at transporting the water to the roots.

In the 15th century, voyagers to the Canary Islands obtained Dragon's Blood as dried garnet-red drops from Dracaena draco, a tree native to the Canary Islands and Morocco. Clearly a family relative of D. cinnabari, it displays almost identical morphology.

A great degree of confusion existed for the ancient's in regard to the source and identity of Dragon's Blood. The resin of Dracaena species, is the "true" Dragon's Blood, and the very poisonous mineral cinnabar (mercury sulfide) were often confused by the ancient Roman's. In ancient China, little or no distinction was made among the types of Dragon's Blood from the different species, even today resin's from both Dracaena and Daemonorops are often marketed as "Dragon's Blood" with little or no distinction made between the plant sources.

Dragon's Blood is the latex (tears), which form when the bark of the tree is cut or scored. This dark sap is collected and is then marketed under the name "Dragon's Blood".
The Dragon's Blood Tree is covered in, what appear to be, "scales", as it grows similar to a palm tree. The resinous substance appears to "bleed" from between the scales, which looks similar to blood seeping out of a cut (or a scaly dragon's hide).

Dragon's Blood resin is very brittle and breaks with an irregular, resinous fracture. It is bright to dark red and glossy inside, and a darker red sometimes powdered with crimson externally. Small, thin pieces can be almost transparent.

History & Folklore

Dragon's Blood has a long history, however is neglected more-so in modern day medicines.

Dragon's Blood incense is traditionally used in Indian ceremonies to get rid of negative energies and spirits, it is regarded as having cleansing properties. It's strong herbal, yet spicy fragrance, is also said to be calming and some believe it has aphrodisiacal properties too, especially if you leave a piece under your mattress.

As well as for burning, the resin has gained other uses throughout history. In the 18th Century, Italain violin-makers are said to have used it as a source of varnish for their instruments. While the Greeks and Roman's regarded it as having medicinal properties. The warriors in anicent China used to carry it with them when going into battle, if they were wounded they used the resin to stop their wounds bleeding so much. There was also an 18th century recipe for toothpaste that contained Dragon's Blood.

Dragon's Blood was also used in China as a red varnish for wooden furniture, and was used to colour the surface of writing paper for banners and posters, used especially for weddings and for Chinese New Year.

In American Hoodoo, African-American folk magic, and New Orleans voodoo, Dragon's Blood resin is seen as both a lucky curio and an incense for warding off evil and bring food luck in money and love. Powdered Dragon's Blood may be burned on charcoal, and folks claim that this "cleanses the home" and rids the premises of evil. It is said to be particularly good when moving into a new house, and it may be mixed with Camphor resin for this purpose. Dragon's Blood powder is also used by women who wish to receive an offer of marriage. They write their lover's name on a small square of brown paper, cross it with their own name, fold Dragon's Blood powder into the name-paper, and throw the packet onto glowing charcoal.
The resin is also added to red ink to create "Dragon's Blood Ink", which is used to inscribe magical seals and talismans.

In folk medicine, Dragon's Blood is used externally as a wash to promote healing of wounds and to stop bleeding. It is used internally for chest pains, post-partum bleeding, internal traumas and menstrual irregularities.

In neopagan Witchcraft, it is used to increase the potency of spells for protection, love, banishing and sexuality. In New Age shamanism it is used in ceremonies in a similar way as the neopagans used it.


Dragon's Blood was well-known by the ancient Roman's, and has mention in the 1st Century Periplus as one of the products of Socotra. Socotra had been an important trading centre since, at least, the time of the Ptolemies.
Dragon's Blood was used as a dye and medicine (respiratory and gastrointestinal problems) in the Mediterranean basin, and wass held by the early Greek's, Roman's and Arab's to have medicinal properties. Dioscorides and other early Greek writers described its medicinal uses.

Locals of Moomy city on Socotra island use the Dracaena resin as a sort of cure-all, using it for such things as general wound healing, a coagulant (though this is ill-advised with commercial products, as the Daemonorops species acts as an anti-coagulant and it is usually unknown what species the Dragon's Blood came from), curing diarrhoea, lowering fevers, dysnetery diseases, taken internally for ulcers in the mouth, throat, intestines and stomach, as well as an anti-viral for respiratory viruses, stomach viruses and for such skin disorders as eczema. It was also used in medieval ritual magic and alchemy.

Dragon's Blood is still used as a varnish for violins, in photoengraving, as an incense resin, and as a body oil. The incense is sometimes sold as "red rock opium" to unsuspecting would-be drug buyers. It actually contains no opiates, and has only slight psychoactive effects, if any at all. There was a recent study as to why, in Virginia, Dragon's Blood incense was being used in conjunction with marijuana. After several lab tests it was determined that the abuse potential for Dragon's Blood incense alone or in combination with marijuana is minimal. The reasoning behind Dragon's Blood being sold as a "drug" is not clear, as the resin clearly has very little to no side drug-like effects if smoked or ingested.


Several analyses of Dragon's Blood have been made. The active ingredient that most people focus on is the Taspine contained in the sap, however, Dragon's Blood contains a host of other ingredients, with Taspine actually being one of the minor ingredients.

An interesting point to note is that one of the other ingredients, SP-303, is under clinical investigation for its use in herpes lesions and a patent has been filled for this particular compound.

The list of compounds found in Dragon's Blood is rather impressive, it includes the following:
  • Alpha-calacorene
  • Alpha-copaene
  • Alpha-pinene
  • Alpha-thujene
  • Benzoic
  • Benzoyl-acetic acid
  • Beta-caryophyllene
  • Beta-elemene
  • Beta-pinene
  • Betaine
  • Bincatriol
  • Borneol
  • Calamenene
  • Calcium oxalate
  • Calcium phosphate
  • Camphene
  • Catechins
  • Cedrucine
  • Crolechinic acid
  • Cuparophenol
  • D-limonene
  • Daucosterol
  • Dihydrobenzofuran
  • Dimethylcedrusine
  • Dipentene
  • Dracon alban
  • Dracoresene
  • Dracoresintotannol
  • Eugenol
  • Euparophenol
  • Gallocatechin
  • Gamma-terpinene
  • Gamma-terpineol
  • Hardwickiic acid
  • Isoboldine
  • Korberin A & B
  • Lignin
  • Linalool
  • Magnoflorine
  • Methylthymol
  • Myrcene
  • Norisoboldine
  • P-cymene
  • Proanthocyanidins
  • Procyanidins
  • Resin
  • Tannin
  • Taspine
  • Terpinen-4-ol
  • Vanillin
Dragon's Blood is not acted upon by water, but most of it is soluble in alcohol. It fuses by heat. The solution will stain marble a deep red, penetetrating in proportion to the heat of the stone.

Medicinal Action & Uses

The therapeutic properties of Dragon's Blood include:
  • Anesthetic
  • Anti-allergic
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Antibacterial
  • Anti-dysenteric
  • Antifungal
  • Anti-hermorrhagic (reduces bleeding)
  • Anti-leukemia
  • Antioxidant
  • Antiseptic
  • Anti-tumor
  • Antiviral
  • Neurasthenic (reduces nerve pain)
  • Wound healing
  • Analgesic (pain-reliever)
  • Anti-cancerous
  • Anti-itch
  • Anti-ulcerous
  • Astringent
The above proves why Dragon's Blood is seen as a "wonder" ingredient in cosmetic products, especially those for skin problems e.g. acne. It has great anti-inflammatory qualities and has been proben to stimulate human skin fibroblast which in turn helps to heal the skin.

Historically, doses of 10 to 30 grains were formerly given as an astringent in diarrhoea etc, but officially it is never, at present, used internally, being regarded as inert.

The following treatment is said to have cured cases of severe syphilis: Mix 2 drachms (a drachm is a unit of apothecary weight equal to an eighth of an ounce or to 60 grains) of Dragon's Blood, 2 drachms of colocynth (a viny plant native to the Mediterranean Basin and Asia - also known as bitter apple, bitter cucumber, egusi or vine of Sodom), 1/2 oz. of gamboge (a gum resin used as a yellow pigment and a purgative) in a mortar, and add 3 gills (equal to 5 fluid ounces) of boiling water. Stir for an hour, while keeping hot. Allow to cool, and add, while stirring, a mixture of 2 oz. each of sweet spirits of nitre (KNO3 - potassium nitrate) and copaiba balsam (an oleoresin used in varnishes and ointments).

It appears that the usage of Dragon's Blood in remedies has fallen by the way-side over the years, despite being a highly regarded medicinal botanical during the time of the ancient Roman's and Greek's.


Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Making our first Lozenges and Creams

Today's class was all based around making lozenges and creams.


The main ingredient in lozenges is Gum arabic.

Gum arabic in its powdered and crystal forms. The bowl contains Gum arabic crystal that has been left in water, this dissolves the crystal and forms a glue-like paste.

The most common form for Gum arabic is the crystal.

Gum arabic is a natural gum made of hardened sap taken from the two species of acacia tree. The gum is harvested commercially from wild trees throughout the Sahel from Senegal and Sudan to Somalia, although it has been historically cultivated in Arabia and West Asia.
Gum arabic is a complex mixture of polysaccharies and glycoproteins that is used primarily in the food industry as a stabiliser. It is edible (although it does have the consistency of paste and has a pretty vile taste), and has E number E414.

Gum arabic's mixture of saccharies and glycoproteins gives it the properties of a glue, and binder which is edible by humans, making it the perfect base ingredient to make our lozenges. The reason we use a gum instead of a resin is because a resin contains volatile oils, its aromatic and doesn't suit the purpose as well as the gum which is a carbohydrate, and has very little to no smell.
Resins and Gums are effectively the same thing, they are both wound healers, but for different trees. In the commercial collection of Gum arabic, the trees are actually scored and cut to create wounds for it to heal.

Making lozenges is a fairly simple process. You begin by dissolving the Gum arabic in water, to help speed along the process this can be done over gentle heat. It will turn a bright white colour as it fully dissolves and turns into a glue-like gum.
Dissolving the Gum arabic in water.

One the Gum arabic is fully dissolved, the mixture is now ready to be removed from the heat. The next step in the process is to add the secondary base ingredient to the Gum arabic, which is powdered Slippery Elm. You will be surprised how much Slippery Elm will be taken in by the Gum arabic. Mould the Gum arabic in your hands, it'll be dough-like, and whilst doing this keep your surface covered in Slippery Elm. Also at this stage you can add other herbs, either powders or concentrate drops, or even honey to sweeten the final result!

Mixing the first lot of Slippery Elm into the newly dissolved Gum arabic.

Kneeding the Gum arabic/Slippery Elm dough - powdered Slippery Elm is dusted over the table.

Rolling out the dough after having mixed in the herbs of choice - preparing it to be cut into lozenges.

Adding the powdered herbs and spices to the dough.

Rolling out our "Winter Spice" dough in preparation for cutting.

Dusting the newly cut "lozenges" in spice and Slippery Elm.

The other lozenges - Liquorice & Cinnamon (top left) and Lemon Teardrops (right).

Once you've added what you would like to the dough mixture, roll it out and cut into the sizes you would prefer for your lozenges. Dust the lozenges in Slippery Elm, and leave them out in the air to dry for a few days until rock solid - otherwise they may go bad and mould as they've allowed bacterial growth when damp. Once they've hardened, the lozenges are ready for use - tackling sore throats.

Base Creams

Creams can become complex, however base creams with simple herbal elements are quite simple to make. The base cream we concocted in class only required three simple ingredients.
  1. An oil of your choosing.
  2. Beeswax.
  3. A herbal element.
To make around 120ml of cream, take 80ml of base oil - in our case, we were given the choice of a light coloured Sunflower oil or a deeper coloured Olive oil. We chose the Sunflower oil due to its asthetically pleasing light colour. A tablespoon of beeswax in flakes, as it dissolves readily when heated. And finally the herbal element, either a herbal distillate, fluid extract in either alcohol or water.

In our cream we used an alcohol extract of Chickweed - the taste of which was stated to be like "bitter alcoholic pea" and "rotten salad". A definate anti-romantic (anti-roomatic).

The herbal element is to be put in one bowl, the chosen oil and beeswax in a second - they are to be heated together in a water bath until the beeswax has fully melted. Heating them both together, helps prevent the two seperating when mixed together.

Gathering ingredients and beginning the heating procedure.

Stirring the beeswax in the oil, helps heat it through thoroughly and encourages the beeswax to melt faster.

Once heated, remove the two bowls from the water bath, and slowly, while beating the mixtures (similar to making Mayonnaise) - slowly add the herbal element to the beeswax/oil.

Beat the mixture until it becomes a cream. Then decant it into containers of choice.

These types of base cream have no preservative, unless an alcoholic fluid extract has been used, however the effects have not been determined in that case. So if decanting into glass jars, store them in the fridge so as to help keep them fresher for longer. Otherwise a good idea is to freeze the mixture in ice cube tray, and as and when you need some of the cream, pop out one cube of frozen cream, defrost it and use within 24 hours.

So we left todays class, our bags clinking with empty glass jars and bottles, four little labelled glass jars full of cream and then little plastic containers, dusted utterly in Slippery Elm and holding a selection of the three different lozenges that were made. We had been given our instructions on how to handle each green pharmacy preparation when we got home - creams into fridge, lozenges out into the air to dry - as well as a new piece of homework... to make our own alcoholic extract percolator! Oh dear... that'll be a challenge!

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

All about Ethnomedica

Duncan Ross, once again joined the class to discuss Ethnomedica, among other things, and this update will be primarily about Ethnomedica and the projects based on preserving this.

Oral history or Ethnomedica helps us to understand the past, illuminates the continuity of traditions, and reflects the complex nature of an individual's experience. How do people understand the past? What are their values? Their priorities? Their experiences? How did they perceive these experiences?

The Royal Botanical Gardens of Kew, Surrey, has an active project to "Preserve our herbal heritage. Honour the knowledge and wisdom of older people. Help benefit our future generations - Forge links between them." - it is a large Ethnomedica project.

The project states, that one of the side-effects of globalisation and rapidly changing societies is the loss of local knowledge about plants or anything else. And at home, here in the UK, it has been long been industralised and ranks highly amoung the most developed of regions. However, 150 years ago Britain was still mainly a rural society, when lives were defined by the seasons and everyone knew the names and uses of several common wayside plants. As two generations passed and people developed an urban lifestyle they lost contact with the land and their practical herbal traditions. Recent studies have shown, however, that fragments of knowledge have been passed down through a long oral tradition that still exists among older people.

These projects, including the project designed at Kew, have limited funding and are constantly calling out for help, to preserve the herbal traditions of Great Britain.

Ethnomedica Collectors have to follow several interview techniques, which I will discuss in a minute, however ideally the following information needs to be recorded.

The Collector's: Name; Address; Date of Birth
Date of the Interview
The Contributor's: Name; Address; Date of Birth or Category (20-30, 30-40 etc.); Place of Birth

For each plant remedy mentioned:
  • Name(s) by which plant is known to contributor;
  • Part of plant used and time of year;
  • Where the plant was obtained (wild, cultivated, dried from herbalist etc.);
  • Manner in which plant was used (fresh, dried, infused, poultice etc.);
  • Does the contributor have first-hand experience of the remedy;
  • If so, do they remember the result;
  • Where were they living at the time;
  • What age were they, approximately, when the remedy was used;
  • Where was the knowledge of the remedy obtained (from family, friends or from books etc.);
  • Have they passed on knowledge of the remedy to anyone else.
Identity of the plant: If there is any doubt in the collector's or contributor's mind concerning the plants identity, this should be stated. Sometimes it is possible to confirm a plant's identity by looking at a sample of the plant with the contributor, but this is by no means 100% reliable. Where there is reasonable certainty, collect this sample as a voucher specimen and keep it with the records.

During Interview

The Collector is the person doing the interview. The Contributor is the narrator, the person being interviewed.

It is the experience and knowledge of the Contributor that is important in enthobotanical collection. Contributor's will remember things that are important to them, this must be remembered as it is not what the Collector thinks is important that is being collected. Therefore the information being collected stands out-with the knowlegde of the Collector, the information may not be what the Collector believes or knows to be true, it is what the Contributor believes that is important.

During the interview:
  • It is important for the Collector to try to distinguish between the relation of a firsthand experience, and for example, what the Contributor will have read in books, or newspapers.
  • The Collector should allow the interview to develop so as to draw upon the life experiences of the Contributor: for example, encouraging them to talk about their childhood on the croft.
  • Remember not to exploit the power inherent in the role of Collector, either during the interview or subsequently when you are using the material.
  • Explain the project clearly, and how the data will be used.
  • Remember to obtain their consent for using the information, and consent to include (or exclude) their name on the information (some people will be happy to see their knowledge credited while others prefer to preserve their privacy).
  • Remember to thank them for their time at the beginning, and to thank them at the end for their contribution.
During the interview:
  • Ask open questions;
  • Try to avoid leading questions - which can promt an answer that the Contributor thinks you want;
  • Avoid double-barrelled questions - which are confusing and apt to lead the Contributor to answer only one part;
  • At times the questions need to be precise - correct spellings of common names, especially Gaelic names etc.
  • Use prompting questions when necessary - perhaps together with an object (a vegetable, a jar of jam or a photo etc.) which will mean something to the Contributor, can be used to elicit more information;
  • Use positive encouragement;
  • Don't interrupt your Contributor - allow them to finish their story at their own pace, pauses may mean only that the Contributor is gathering their thoughts;
  • Remember to be adaptable in your interview technique - using a mixed of focused questions at the beginning of the session, or providing context to your question which allows your Contributor to understand why you are asking it. Put them at their ease - you want this to be enjoyable for them. Be patient and tolerant, don't give the impression that you are testing them on their knowledge.
  • Be a good listener - insight matters as much as the information. Concentrate on the narrative; there may be much deep knowledge embedded in the story, which cannot simply be boiled down into data points. Be sensitive to the atmosphere conjured up by the narrative.
  • Be polite and respectful - respect their privacy, and requests for anonymity. Show your appreciation for their contribution and remember to write thank-you notes for your Contributors.
This collection of information begins your own Ethnomedica project, and in turn, helps to preserve folklore.

Job done!

So, our task? To begin our own little Ethnomedica project... track down an individual or a couple if you're feeling really brave, to question about their memories of plant usage, probably ideas and remedies passed down from their own parents that they may have never used, but in this game, it's all about the memory! So we leave class with another piece of homework tucked into our notebooks... Ethnomedica interview.